Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 7

Hi guys, sorry for the delay in posting this one, it’s been a busy week at work and catching up on last weekend’s Wembley NFL game put me behind schedule.

Round 7 brought us one of the biggest results of the season so far: Manchester City – without the injured Benjamin Mendy and Sergio Aguero – took all 3 points from Stamford Bridge courtesy of a great goal from Kevin De Bruyne. This loss leaves Chelsea outside the top 3, already 6 points behind both Manchester clubs and also a point behind Tottenham, who won 4-0 at Huddersfield. Meanwhile Crystal Palace are still looking for their first points – and goal – of the season after a 4-0 loss at Old Trafford.

 

A costly injury?

In my last Premier League Ramble I talked about how Chelsea had found their new main man in Alvaro Morata. Unfortunately for the Blues, Morata left the pitch in the first half against City with what has been diagnosed as a Grade 2 hamstring injury. An injury of this type usually has a recovery period of 4-8 weeks, so it could be a while before we see the Spaniard in the league again. I’m starting to think I may be a curse, as some of the players I’ve picked on fantasy rugby games this year have either got injured in the next match or been on the end of a blowout loss. If so, I sincerely apologise to all Chelsea fans!

Antonio Conte now has a big decision to make as to who leads his line until Morata is back. Michy Batshuayi would be considered the go-to replacement up front, but it was interesting to see that he was left on the bench until the final 20 minutes against City, with Willian coming on for Morata and Eden Hazard moving forward instead. Does Conte not trust Batshuayi to lead this attack or was it a decision to focus on not losing and maybe nicking a goal rather than playing for the win? Whatever the reasoning, it didn’t work.

Already 6 points off the pace in the title race, any more poor results while Morata’s out could see their title defence over before Christmas. Suddenly the decision to freeze out Diego Costa and offload him to Atletico doesn’t seem so smart.

Give the refs a hand?

With some of the other results in this round of football, one incident that didn’t get much mention was a vital decision (or non-decision) in Bournemouth’s 0-0 draw with Leicester. Marc Pugh clearly felt his team deserved a penalty when his shot was blocked on its way to goal by a raised hand from Leicester defender Danny Simpson. Referee Graham Scott waved play on but having seen the replays I agree 100% with Bournemouth gaffer Eddie Howe’s assessment of it being a stonewaller, as there is no reason that the hand should be in that position. Had Bournemouth gone on to win anyway it wouldn’t have been so bad, but Bournemouth can feel that this is 2 points taken away from them. Bournemouth currently sit on 4 points with only Crystal Palace below them, while Leicester (5 points) are above the relegation zone through goal difference. Had Bournemouth won courtesy of the penalty, they would switch places with the Foxes. It may be early days, but these points could prove crucial come the end of the season.

People who know me will know that rugby is my favourite sport and for the second time already this season, I find myself writing about how something from rugby could benefit football. Rugby have been using Television Match Officials (TMOs) for as long as I can remember and their role within the game has grown from confirming if a try has been scored to also helping identify moments of foul play. A football referee’s job is hard enough at the best of times keeping an eye on 22 players at once, surely anything to help them make the right decision benefits the sport. VAR will already help with allowing or disallowing goals if brought into the league, but it should be used for much more than just that. The Premiership has a bumper TV deal and all games are being recorded either to be broadcast whole or on a Match of the Day highlights show, so it should not be hard to set up an official in front of a bank of screens who can quickly replay a possible incident and alert the ref if a foul occurred. This could even be expanded on in one of 2 ways, which are both used in other sports:

The Rugby Way – if the referee is uncertain, he should be able to stop the game and refer to the TMO. This could be used for incidents like the Simpson handball to see if there was a foul, or also to help the referee to decide on the appropriate punishment (red/yellow card) following an incident. The referee could even go as far as to say what his on-field decision is so that conclusive proof must be found for the decision to be changed.

The NFL Way – in the NFL, a team has 3 challenges available per half, where a coach can stop the game and ask the officials to review a decision that they feel should have gone the other way. The challenges must be made before the next play begins. This could be adapted to football by allowing either the on-field captain or a nominated person in the dugout to call the challenge, with a set time-frame that the challenge must be called within. The amount could also be reduced to 3 challenges per game rather than per half due to the nature of the sport. Other sports like cricket and tennis have similar challenge systems so it would not be something new to UK sports.

I can imagine some football purists would be against this as it would be seen as adding unwanted stoppages to the game. However, surely we want the right team winning rather than the lottery of if the referee is in the right angle to make the right decision. Plus we have enough stoppages for injury caused by players doing a somersault and 20 rolls on the ground the moment someone comes within a few feet of them.

Next on strike

As mentioned above, Crystal Palace are still looking for their first goal of the season after 7 matches, which is not being helped by a lengthening injury list up front. The next-lowest scoring team have been Swansea, who started the season without the injured Fernando Llorente who has now moved to Tottenham. They re-signed Wilfried Bony in the hopes that he can find the form that earned him a move to Manchester City, while they will also be hoping Tammy Abraham can continue to improve while on loan from Chelsea. Meanwhile Newcastle’s joint-top scorers in the league after 7 weeks are new signing Joselu and defender Jamaal Lascelles, each with 2. Joselu’s second, against Liverpool was the epitome of good luck too as he completely wasted Shelvey’s brilliant pass that cut the defence apart by allowing Matip to catch up with him and make the tackle, only to see the ball ricochet off his knee and into the net. Pretty much every club in the league seems to have at least one striker they can rely on, except these 3 at the moment, so unless things start to change soon, it would not surprise me to see these clubs looking for a new reliable striker in January. I was discussing this with a friend during the week and there could potentially be some great options out there who could need a move for more game-time or a change of scenery where they don’t appear to be reaching the level they would expect:

Charlie Austin – It’s been a few seasons since he lit up the league with QPR and he has had some issues with injuries but on the whole his profession football career has been full of goals, with his average of 1 goal every 3 games at Southampton considered low for him. The manager merry-go-round at Southampton in recent years will not have helped him and he has not appeared to be the lead striker this season, with Manolo Gabbiadini being preferred. He’s only 28 so still has years in the tank and if given the right service could easily start climbing the goal scoring charts again. I imagine Jonjo Shelvey and Matt Ritchie would love a player like Austin getting on the end of their passes.

Danny Ings – Charlie Austin wasn’t the only striker to earn plaudits after guiding his team to promotion and continuing the good form in the Premier League, as Danny Ings was doing exactly the same with Burnley at the same time. Ings has had awful luck with injuries since Klopp took over the reins at Liverpool and it with the quality that the Reds have up front now it would look very difficult to break back into the starting XI on a regular basis. Only 25, he should be hitting his prime and as such I think he would benefit from either a transfer or a loan to a striker-needy team where he can prove he is still a top talent.

Troy Deeney – He may not be as prolific as Ings and Austin have been, but Troy Deeney is an experienced striker who knows how to find the net. Now aged 29, he seems to be falling down the pecking order at Watford, especially considering the great start to the season from new signing Richarlison. He’s been a great servant for the Hornets, but it may be time for him to find new pastures.

Saido Berahino – This was probably the hardest sell. With the exception of the 2014/15 season with West Brom, Berahino has never had the same level of consistency as the other strikers mentioned, and he is in fact still without a goal since he moved to Stoke in January. There is clearly talent there – Spurs offered £15m for him in the summer of 2015 – but I think he needs to find an atmosphere and a team that is right for him. I think Berahino would really benefit from a change of scenery to a team where he can start fresh and try to find the future England star we thought he could become when he was banging the goals in for the Baggies.

 

Week 8 predictions:

Liverpool v Manchester United – United win

Burnley v West Ham – Burnley win

Crystal Palace v Chelsea – Chelsea win

Manchester City v Stoke – City win

Swansea v Huddersfield – Draw

Tottenham v Bournemouth – Spurs win

Watford v Arsenal – Arsenal win

Brighton v Everton – Draw

Southampton v Newcastle – Draw

Leicester v West Brom – Draw

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